These five big things will happen during the course of the 2020 NASCAR season.
Jimmie Johnson Will Go Out a Winner
It’s been a long time since Jimmie Johnson last won a NASCAR Cup Series race. Specifically it was June of 2017 when Johnson last visited Victory Lane. The 2020 season will be Johnson’s last as a full-time NASCAR driver before he hangs up his helmet and waits for his name to be called at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Johnson will ride off into the sunset with 84 career wins after adding another victory to his total this year. There were enough signs of life in the second half of 2019 when Johnson and new crew chief Cliff Daniels started to gel that should provide Johnson fans with a sense of optimism he’ll cross the finish line first at least once this season. He will.
Rookie Class Goes Winless
This year’s Cup Series Rookie of the Year class is as solid as its been for some time. Last year’s Xfinity Series "Big 3" – Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer all move up joined by John Hunter Nemechek, who has a full-time ride with Front Row Motorsports. But while it will be an entertaining and hotly-contested battle to see who is the best freshman driver of 2020, none of the talented group will score their first career Cup win. The learning curve making the jump to NASCAR’s top tier coupled with the veteran competition the young drivers have to deal with will keep any of them from visiting Victory Lane, at least in 2020.
Chevrolet Misses the Championship 4 – Again
It’s been a rough stretch for the Bowtie Brigade in terms of winning a Cup championship. Not since Jimmie Johnson in 2016 has Chevrolet celebrated a title. That was also the last time the manufacturer had representation in the Championship 4. The drought is certainly on the minds of everyone inside the Chevy camp and the introduction of this year’s new Camaro body style is hoped to close the gap with Toyota and Ford. However despite its best efforts Chevrolet will find itself on the outside looking in again in 2020 with the quartet of championship-eligible drivers coming from the other two manufacturers.
A Veteran Steps Away
The exodus of drivers from the Cup Series has been fast and furious over the last several seasons. For a variety of reasons, names like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Danica Patrick, Greg Biffle, Paul Menard, David Ragan and after Jimmie Johnson no longer appear in post-race box scores. Another veteran will join the list this season. There are a number of drivers approaching the end of their careers including Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman among those who are now considered the elder statesman of the series. The desire to spend more time with family, business machinations, the advent of a new Cup car in 2021 the likes of which have never been seen before in the series are just a few of the reasons why it’s not a stretch to believe the end could be near for yet another veteran driver.
2021 Schedule Tweaks
NASCAR reiterated this week its desire to announce the 2021 Cup Series schedule in April. There has been a great deal of speculation around the industry about what kind of changes will take place now that the current track agreements have expired and the NASCAR-ISC merger is complete. Short tracks, more road courses, doubleheader weekends and street circuit events are all reportedly on the table as the sanctioning body looks to plot its new course into the 2020’s and beyond. However rather than a complete overhaul, look for more of a modification when the new slate is revealed. There will still be 36 point races and they will be contested at the bulk of the facilities that have been part of the schedule for the last several years. More dynamic changes could definitely take place in the coming years as NASCAR continues to explore options, but those plans will need more time to develop. I expect one or maybe two different venues at the most when the ’21 schedule is revealed.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.